Carla Sonheim Artist Interview
Professional artist and author Carla Sonheim talks about her art and business in this interview.
Carla Sonheim Bio
Carla Sonheim is a painter, illustrator, and creativity workshop instructor known for her fun and innovative projects and techniques designed to help adult students rediscover a more spontaneous, playful approach to creating. She is the author of three instructional art books: Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun; Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals: A Mixed-Media Workshop and The Art of Silliness: A Creativity Book for Everyone. In 2013 she coauthored Creative Photography Lab with her husband, Steve Sonheim. Steve and Carla offer online classes in drawing, painting and mixed-media with a variety of talented teachers. They also produce “365,” a daily video-based class designed to encourage creative thinking and action. They live in Seattle, WA.
Please tell us what you do.
My name is Carla Sonheim and I am the author of Drawing Lab for MixedMedia Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun (Quarry Books, 2010).
When my boys were young I taught art in their elementary school classrooms. There I was tasked (happily!) with keeping the lessons both fun AND instructional, and when I began teaching adults a few years later, I continued this approach as I found that many people felt nervous about drawing especially… it helped to keep it FUN! From those two teaching experiences Drawing Lab was born.
This “serious and silly” approach sums up what we do with our online classes, too. We partner with 10 artist-teachers, and all of us LOVE to draw, paint and create… and we love to share what we know, too!
Our current artist-teachers are Lynn Whipple, Cat Bennett, Diane Culhane, Fred Lisaius, Karine Swenson, Alison O’Donoghue, Stephanie Hargrave, Dar Hosta James, Kara Kramer, Lendon Noe, and me! We currently have over 45 classes at our website: www.carlasonheim.com. My husband, Steve, is a full partner in this venture. A commercial photographer by trade, Steve films all of the classes and is responsible for ensuring the excellent quality of our videos. As a director he brings out the best in our artists!
Our passion project is “365,” a class where we produce a daily inspirational art video (techniques, interviews, assignments, questions, etc). Our mission is to encourage daily creative thinking.
Please tell us about your art?
I came to art-making later in life; I was 30 when I took my first drawing class. At the time I was working as a graphic designer and inspired by Modern artists, contemporary illustration, and children’s art. I think my “style” reflects that and, nearly 25 years later, I still draw, paint and print mostly animals and people in sort of a naive contemporary style.
However, I seem to have many different “hands” as the media tends to drive me. If I am working in pencil, for example, I tend to be more “careful,” but if it’s oil pastel or charcoal, the marks get looser.
I spend my days dabbling in many different media, mostly to share with students in our 365 class.
Please tell us about your best-selling “Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists” book.
You’ve sold over 100,000 copies of that book, can you give some advice for artists considering publishing their own art instruction book?
“Drawing Lab” was a collection of the art assignments I had been teaching to both children and adults (starting about 12 years before it was published). I really love to teach and after so many years, it was “almost” easy to write it all down.
If you would like to publish a similar book, my advice would be to teach “live” as often as possible! This helps refine your projects and techniques and will give you feedback on areas that are difficult for students to grasp, etc.
You’ve written several art books now, are books still a good opportunity for artists?
Generally the actual writing of books is not super profitable (in that the advance usually barely covers the time it takes to write a book). However, I am so grateful for my books because they have been such a wonderful marketing tool. They drive people to my website, and from there (hopefully) they will take an online class (which are more profitable for us).
You partner with 10 other artists to sell online courses, how did that collaboration come about?
When my husband decided to begin phasing out of his commercial business in 2014 and take over the business side of Carla Sonheim Presents, we decided to partner with a couple of teachers and produce their online classes. It worked out well, and so we have added one to two teachers to our lineup each year.
Do you recommend business collaborations like that for other artists?
This was a great option for us because Steve had the photography and directing skills to produce the videos. The other artists have allowed us to offer a wide variety of classes to our students (classes I wouldn’t have been able to teach), which has kept them coming back. Artist-teachers bring their own fans, too, so it is a win-win for everyone.
If you were starting today, where would you focus your time to build a successful art career?
I think working for yourself in any field has it’s challenges, but no more than the challenge of working for someone else (if your personality seems to balk at that… ahem). If you would like to be an artist, just work very hard at your art and go for it!
(If I had it to do over again I would work harder on my art, earlier. 😀 )
You might need a “day job” for awhile, and that’s awesome. Try to pick one that you enjoy! I think the happier you are overall, the better you will be able to produce your artwork on your off hours.
And good luck!!
In Carla’s best selling class, you’ll create beautiful monotypes without a press! In this quick, technique-based class, Carla Sonheim will show you how to make fine-art quality prints with inexpensive materials. No experience necessary! You’ll learn how to apply bands of color and texture, develop your images with stencils, stamping and drawing, and finish your prints with glazing and sink work. Warning: Gelli Plate Printmaking is addictive.